Getting divorced can be difficult emotionally, but it doesn't have to be as draining and costly as you might fear. You can get an uncontested divorce relatively quickly and inexpensively if, early in the process, you and your spouse are able to agree on all of the legal and financial issues related to ending your marriage.
This article explains how to get an uncontested divorce in Rhode Island.
An uncontested divorce is possible when both spouses agree to end their marriage and reach a settlement agreement that resolves all of their divorce-related issues, including:
Unlike some states, Rhode Island does not have a special, simplified process for an uncontested or "summary" divorce. So the easiest way to pursue an uncontested divorce in the state is to file for a no-fault divorce (more on that below). Then, when you get to the first hearing, show the judge that you and your spouse have agreed on all of the issues in your case, including the reason for the split. That way, you can avoid the expense and time required for a traditional contested divorce.
Many couples find that they can get a "DIY" uncontested divorce without hiring lawyers. But you might consider having an attorney at least review the divorce settlement agreement to make sure it protects your legal rights and won't lead to problems down the road. You might also want to enlist the help of a mediator or lawyer if you're having trouble reaching an agreement, or you're not sure how to handle dividing complicated assets like a business or pension plan.
When you file for divorce, you must state the "ground" (or legal reason), based on the options in your state's law. The grounds for divorce in Rhode Island include both fault-based and no-fault reasons. But filing for divorce based on fault (some type of misconduct on your spouse's part) almost always complicates the process, because you'll have to prove your claims.
To file for a no-fault divorce in Rhode Island, you need to claim that either:
Unless you've already gone through a long separation, for an uncontested divorce both you and your spouse should claim that you want a divorce because of irreconcilable differences. (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 15-5-3, 15-5-3.1 (2021)).
In order to get a divorce in Rhode Island, you must first meet the state's residency requirement: Either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least one year just before you start the legal process (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-12 (2021)).
Because Rhode Island doesn't allow joint divorce petitions or other ways of filing together with your spouse, the initial steps in an uncontested divorce are the same as the standard procedure to file for divorce in Rhode Island. One spouse (referred to as the "plaintiff") starts the process by filing a "complaint" (the divorce petition) and other forms, including financial disclosures. The other spouse (the "defendant") will then file an answer.
Most of the forms you will need are available from the family court clerk's office (also known as the Domestic Relations Division of the Superior Court) in the county where you will file for divorce—the county where the petitioner lives, or where the defendant lives if you meet the residency requirement based on the defendant's residence. (R.I. Gen. Stat. § 15-5-13 (2021).)
Some forms are available online at the Rhode Island Judiciary website, but you need to check with the local clerk to get the list of all the forms you'll need and any other information about filing (including the possibility of electronic filing or filing by mail). You can either go in person, call, or use the Family Court's "Virtual Clerk Help Desk." The other option is to use an online divorce service that will provide and complete the proper forms, once you've filled out a questionnaire with information about your finances and children.
Once the plaintiff files the complaint and other forms, the papers will need to be served on the defendant, along with a summons provided by the court, (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-20 (2021)). There's a filing fee, unless you apply for and receive a waiver based on your income level). You might have to pay a fee for service of process, depending on the method you use.
After receiving the divorce papers, the defendant must file an answer to the complaint and serve the answer on the plaintiff.
Rhode Island doesn't allow you to finalize an uncontested divorce based just on your paperwork and settlement agreement. You will need to appear at a hearing before a judge at least once. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-22 (2021).)
At the hearing, you and your spouse will explain and answer questions about your divorce settlement. You may submit an affidavit from a witness to prove that you meet the state's residency requirements. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-12 (2012).)
The judge will make a decision after the hearing—but you won't be officially divorced yet. Rhode Island has a three-month waiting period from the time of the judge's decision until the divorce decree can be made final. After the hearing, you must file a "Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment" form with the court. Then, within 180 days after the end of the three-month period, you should request that the final judgment be entered. You'll still be legally married until that happens. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-23, R.I. Fam. Ct. Rules Prac., rule 1.8 (2021).)